Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sea and sun

Delicious, delicious!
At the end of September, hubs and I decided to take little man down to the Mississippi coast for a fun weekend. Hubs' sister lives down there with her sweet family, and we thought it would give us an opportunity to visit with them and see some of the sights!

We did a good job beating traffic out of town after work on Friday, but then we got HUNGRY. I was despairing a bit, because that far between Mississippi towns, we were in a wasteland of barbecue, fried-something-or-other, bad Mexican, and fast food. We were blessed to find 49 Bistro in Magee, Miss. What a gem! We just saw it from the road, checked it out on urbanspoon, and decided to give it a go.

I'm sooooo glad we did. This is a locally owned spot. It used to be a Cups,
This was my Mediterranean flatbread. YUM.
but the owners wanted to serve more and different food than the franchise was comfortable with, so they struck out on their own. You can walk in the door expecting delicious, fresh paninis, pizzas (more like flatbreads and YUM), salads, and wraps. I had a gorgeous Mediterranean pizza, hubs got a tasty panini, and little man had an artisan PB&J. This place makes its own bread and creates its salad dressings on site. Amazing, amazing. Service was personal, and prices were CHEAP. This is THE place to stop on your way to the Gulf coast.

Afterwards, the owner asked us if we'd like a bit of ice cream. Clay danced off with a cup of strawberry with sprinkles on top. I chose caramel. Then the owner asked, "Would you like a shot of espresso over that caramel?" Um, YES. "How about some whipped cream and a little chocolate drizzle?" Are you married, dude?

Just stop at 49 Bistro. Just. Stop. Trust me.

Biloxi Lighthouse
We arrived in Gulfport on Friday night and checked into the Residence Inn and Suites. (It's a Marriott property right near the little Gulfport airport. Don't worry, it's not noisy at all. Hubs and I stay at this property on the coast when we travel there with little man. We like it because it's affordable, well-located, and very roomy. We've booked both 1 and 2 bedroom units in the past. You'll get a nice kitchen and a sitting room, too!)

After a good night's sleep, we had a filling (free!) breakfast at the hotel. Then, it was off to walk the beach and take a tour of the historic Biloxi Lighthouse. First of all, if you haven't been to the beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a while, I invite you to check them out. I've posted a few pics on this post to give you an idea of what to expect. Beautiful.

You can get tickets to tour the lighthouse in the building right across the street. It's a lovely, expansive visitors center. We paid $5 for adults and $2 for kids, then headed back to the beach. We walked along the shoreline and out onto one of the many piers while we waited for the next tour. Clay chased seagulls and observed their tracks in the sand.

Then, it was time to go up! We climbed the spiral iron staircase up to the tippy top of the lighthouse (NOT for those with trouble getting around), where a guide told us all about the structure's history, resilience and capabilities. He also showed off the light itself, and we got great views.

Crazy boys at Lyn Meadows
After our tour, we headed for the Lyn Meadows Discovery Center. I hadn't been there in years, and we'd never taken little man out there. So fun!! Clay and his cousin, Tanner, had great fun pretending to be pilots, explorers, hoteliers, supermarket workers, weathermen, and more. We made music on found objects, climbed in and on a large central indoor gym/art piece, and just had an all-around awesome time. We finished up with running through KidTown, where the buildings are all kid-sized, and poking our heads into all the cool tree houses out back.

If you have kids, I really, REALLY recommend a visit to the Lyn Meadows Discovery Center. You can easily spend the better part of a day here. Mon.-Sat., admission is $8 per person. If that's too rich for your blood, visit on Sunday (noon-5 p.m.), when admission is a mere $5.

Beaches at sunset. Gorgeous.
By this time, our tummies were rumbling! We decamped to Back Bay Seafood for lunch. I had a yummy
grilled fish sandwich, hubs ate a GIANT po'boy, and Clay had popcorn shrimp. This place serves tasty food at reasonable prices. Service is quick and friendly, to boot. Recommended.

We needed a rest, so we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. We awoke refreshed. Clay and I decided to head down to the beach for the sunset while hubs relaxed at the hotel. It was so, so pretty. Clay played in the sand, dipped his toes in the water, and chased seagulls as the sun slipped slowly below the horizon. Just magical.

WE met up for dinner with hubs at the Shrimp Basket in Gulfport. You'll see these little restaurants dotted all along the Gulf Coast. They serve local seafood at an attractive price point. Atmosphere is nothing fancy, but these little places are great for families and casual dining. I hit the spot with a dee-licious steamed shrimp platter with corn, potatoes and piles of beautiful steamed shrimp. (I subbed out the coleslaw with fresh steamed veggies. Coleslaw is not my friend.) Afterwards, we turned in.

View from the shrimp boat
Sunday morning found us up and at 'em for more fun. After another breakfast in the hotel, we headed for the small craft harbor in Biloxi. From there, we took the 1-hour Biloxi Shrimping Trip. Now, this trip can be hit-or-miss. They don't do advance bookings, and they don't take anything but cash. We'd showed up on time the day before, only to see a full boat pulling away from the dock without us. But on Sunday, we arrived a little early to make sure we got on the boat.

We paid our $15 per adult and $10 per child, and at 10:30 a.m., we set sail. You can sit on an upper, outdoor deck or in the interior, shaded space below. We started out on the upper deck to enjoy the gorgeous day and watch the Mississippi Sound gliding by. On the tour, they tell you about the history of shrimping in the Gulf, and they throw out a little trawling net so you can see a few of the critters that live on the bottom of the sound. Every seagull in the immediate area knows that there's going to be some bycatch, so they flock around the boat and wait for their opportunity. We had the best time learning and enjoying the water! The guys running the tour are a hoot and have a great time with the audience on the boat. Recommended.

Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs is fun and FREE!
After our tour, we had a little time to kill before lunch. We headed over to Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs, where you can enjoy a water view, play on a great playground and get wet in a free splash pad. There are plenty of benches available, in addition to clean restrooms. Clay was already having a great time, and then, as if by magic, an ICE CREAM TRUCK showed up. Even though we hadn't had lunch, we let him have a small treat. In his opinion, this weekend was just getting better and better.
Mikey's serves delicious seafood at reasonable prices.

After playing for a while, we decided to grab some lunch before bringing our weekend to a close. We drove the short distance to Mikey's on the Bayou in Ocean Springs, where we sampled broiled oysters, fried seafood and more. This is another one of those local places with reasonable prices and
great seafood. Plus, it's on the water, so you can sit on the back deck and enjoy nice views.

We had an amazing time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and we can't wait to go back! There are so many things we didn't even get the chance to see or do!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Media

I've been catching up on some television watching and reading lately. There's so much good stuff out there!

First of all, I finally got into watching Downtown Abbey. And I totally see what all the fuss is about. (Although the development at the end of last season did leave me a bit miffed at Julian Fellowes. I get it - contract. But I was still pissed.)

Aside from their great cast (and Maggie Smith's amazing one-liners), I love the dedication to the period. The costumes, the location, the social situations. It's just fascinating and really, really well done. I'm all caught up and cannot WAIT to see what happens next.

I've also finally settled into watching all the back seasons of Mad Men on Netflix. O.M.G. First of all, I think I love this show because it's about the sales and marketing industry. This is very close to the work that I do, and I love seeing what campaigns Sterling Cooper's going to come up with next.

Secondly, much like Downtown Abbey, I love how this is a period piece that reflects the clothing, furniture, behavior, and social attitudes of a very specific time. I also love Don Draper as our antihero. He's interesting precisely because he has so many flaws. And from time to time, he'll do something so decent that the writers of this show convince you to keep giving him another chance. The tension there is fantastic.

I also recently finished reading This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz. This book is a series of essays about young men and their experiences with love and loss. Some of the characters only appear in one essay, and we visit some of them several times, during different points in their lives. This construct allows us to see how previous experiences (including often turbulent family lives) have shaped their romantic interactions. (AKA "Everyone has baggage.") Diaz also explores traditional masculine and feminine roles, with one of the key through-lines being that we all want to be loved, no matter our past or our posturing. Though there are definitely some raunchy parts in this book (because, well, young men can be pretty raunchy), I really enjoyed it.

I also just finished Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. Wow. Ok, this one is going to take a second to unpack. I would call is a dystopian futuristic novel, but we're not talking about Hunger Games here. It's more like Shteyngart has taken everything he sees in American society today, sharpened it, and moved it along a few decades.

In Shteyngart's New York of the future, everyone walks around with the apparati (the new smartphone) around their neck. Technological advances have made it almost the size of a pendant. The culture is even more obsessed with sex, youth and money, with data crawlers and algorithms constantly allowing users to compile information on those around them and rate them in real time. (ie. How hot is the girl who just walked into the bar? Not just based on how she looks, but based on everything she's shard about herself online and how the rest of the Internet has ranked her? Horrifying.) Credit poles spaced strategically around town show the world the credit ratings of passersby. Girls parade around in see-through jeans, and companies promise consumers dechronification treatments that can literally offer eternal life and eternal youth. The problem is, the American economy is crumbling. The nation is in hock to the Chinese, and the leaders of other big economic players are decoupling their economies from the United States'. (Not so far-fetched, is it?)

Against this dismal backdrop, our protagonist, Lenny Abramhov, meets Eunice Park. A May-December romance, their relationship gives both characters a chance to reexamine their lives and values. Ultimately, it makes them reevaluate themselves.

The modern day equivalent of an epistolary novel, the story is told completely through direct online messages and journal entries.

What stays with me about this book isn't the characters. (I didn't really like them, and it was hard for me to root for the relationship. It's obviously doomed from the start.) What I walked away with was Shteyngart's vision of America's future. It's completely chilling, and, sadly, it looks as though this is where we could be headed. Yikes. Worth a read.

Catching up with Clay!

Our little booger has been busy lately! Over the summer, he turned six! He asked for a party with kings and queens and knights. We decided to fun it up with paper crowns for all the guests, a bouncy house shaped like a castle, cool invitations made out of parchment paper (We designed them ourselves with free illuminated letters we found online, then had it printed out at Sir Speedy. We even burned the edges, which Clay thought was fantastic. Little pyro.), and a two-tiered castle cake (with a Kit Kat door! How fun!). I think everyone had a great time! 

And this year, we started first grade!! Mama was a little verkelmpt as he walked off wearing his new Darth Vader backpack. So far, first grade has been really fun! He's reading like a top and making lots of new friends. 

He's also been progressing along with tae kwon do, and he has a high green belt exam tonight. Now that he's a bit more advanced, they are doing sparring, which is where they suit up in protective gear and try to land some kicks and hits on one another. The protective gear is VERY extensive, and it's hilarious to watch him maneuver around in it like some sort of tiny Stay Puff marshmallow man! At first, they matched him up with kids his own size, and he completely bullied them. He backed one poor girl into a corner and just landed hits all over until we stepped in. Then, they paired him with a much bigger boy. At first, his strategy seemed to be running away. (Smart kid.) But then, he decided to stand his ground. He did pretty well after that!

He's decided to be a vampire for Halloween, so we're getting ready for that. I've got all kinds of face paint and even two little attachable fangs! I can't wait to see how he looks!

He comes up with all kinds of quirky little comments that keep hubs and I laughing, and we try to keep him occupied: splash pads, parks, the planetarium, museums. He stays busy! We've been reading lots of non-fiction about animals lately - frogs, turtles, sharks, dolphins, etc. He also still loves watching shows about superheroes (plus Wild Kratts).

Anyway, I just want to keep trying to document how he's doing and what he loves every once in a while. I can already tell these years are going by so quickly. I don't want to forget what a hoot he was at this age!